Monday, 27 August 2007

Owl box project a success!

I don’t know if anyone remembers about our village owl box project. I wrote about it when we were young and innocent and blogged courtesy of CL.

As part of our local biodiversity project 28 shiny new designer owl boxes were erected within our local parish. For six exhausting days back in February, these huge and unwieldy tawny and barn owl boxes were lugged through fields and over stiles by the intrepid owl box team. I volunteered the keen mountain biker as official photographer, but he was quickly promoted to the wheel barrow and ladder party. Mainly because we owned the wheel barrow and ladder.

The initial opinion was that no owl would even consider their new homes for at least a year. I secretly feared the only occupants were likely to be grey squirrels and magpies, but I’ve been proved wrong.

The owl inspector, yes there really is one, has confirmed a large number of the barn owl boxes are in use. Three separate adults and thirteen young were weighed and tagged, and at the time of inspection, five more eggs were still to hatch. Another box showed signs of habitation by a buzzard. The tawny owl boxes haven’t been checked yet but results should be equally promising.

Owl numbers have plummeted throughout Britain in the past few years, so the results of our little project are enormously exciting and very satisfying.

Now we have to decide upon our next project. Thinking back to those damp and freezing treks across muddy fields, way back at the start of the year, I’m keen on a dormouse village. The boxes are much smaller and easier to carry for a start. Hopefully we will be able to find a sympathetic landowner with just the right sort of coppiced woodland.

If anyone else has been involved in similar projects or if you have any ideas for small scale, inexpensive projects that may help our local flora or fauna I’d love to hear from you.

(Sorry about the rubbish quality of the picture but I had to copy it from our news sheet. It is a picture of one of the owls being tagged.)

Monday, 20 August 2007

Lessons for the holiday letter

( This is not useful advice on how to write a postcard.)

Having just arrived back from an eventful ten days in Scotland I’ve jotted down some points to remember for those in the holiday lettings business:

When a guest requests instructions on how to find your remote and romantic hideaway cottage, don’t direct her via a narrow road where the bridge has been closed for repairs for the past 8 weeks. The resulting 14 mile detour at the end of a long drive doesn’t make for a contented visitor.

Avoid filling the cottage with dry and dusty flower arrangements. The temptation to use them to light the fire may prove too great for your tired and chilly guest when she arrives and can’t find any kindling.

Remember to sort through all those useful leaflets on local attractions on a regular basis. A minimum of at least once a year is suggested. Guests aren’t interested in what fun they could have had if only they had been there in 2003/2004. This is particularly true if the leaflets are too shiny to light the fire.

If an open fire is a main feature, do warn your guest not to light it when a slight breeze is blowing. This will save her having to run into the garden in her nightie when the cottage fills up with smoke, or at least ensure she is wearing her best nightie and not just an old tee shirt, socks and walking boots, when she attempts to light the morning fire.

If an elderly relative leaves you a dirty old three piece suit in a will, don’t give it pride of place in your holiday cottage. ( The same can be said for a double bed, wardrobe, stained table mats etc….)

Likewise, a holiday let is not the place to store all those strange ornaments and faded dusty plastic flower arrangements left over from the last village hall table top sale.

Clean pillow cases and duvet covers do not hide an all pervading smell of stale bedding. Not all of your guests will have their own clean sleeping bags with them. Fortunately we did.

Double beds are crucial to a romantic holiday let. They aren't comfy if they dip so badly in the middle that guests are forced to hang on to the edges all night or sleep stacked up in a pile in the middle. (OK, I know that can be fun for a short while, but I need my sleep.)

Most important. Don’t just rely on the fact your cottage is situated in an outstandingly beautiful area of Scotland. An effort had been made to clean the cottage and it had a fancy microwave and washing machine, but the overall impression was so grotty that we actually considered sleeping in our tent in the garden and only using the kitchen and bathroom. The area is lovely, with huge heather moors, wonderful wildlife, secret glens and pretty villages. We even came across a couple of outstanding art galleries in the most unexpected hidden places, but we will think twice before returning to the Glenlivet area again.

Monday, 6 August 2007

I've been Bloomsburied

Give me two hot days in summer and my whole attitude to clothes changes. Without really noticing I drift into soft cotton and starched linen, a floppy hat pulled rakishly over my ears. Yesterday I even wore lipstick down the allotment, where there is only the odd rabbit and scarecrow to see me. I don’t count the Loic look alike who works the plot next to mine. Best not to catch his eye if you want to avoid long and boring conversations about sprouts.

All autumn and winter I happily slop around with mud splattered trousers tucked into my boots, but hot sunny weather has me squeezing into diaphanous fabrics. In winter or wet weather I shop with local charities. Give me a warm summer breeze and I dig into the depths of my wardrobe. In a flash I’m under the apple tree sighing romantically into my gin and toxic, wafting clouds of Muguet perfume, as sensuous as any Arthur Rackham fairy.

In your dreams woman!

Actually, I’ve been drifting around in a voluminous blue number I bought back in April, when the promise was a long and steaming summer. I’ll need to get as much wear out of it as I can, else I’ll be stuck with another dratted frock in the back of my wardrobe It will lurk there until it’s so completely out of fashion even my local charity shop won‘t take it. Yes, that's happened to me, but I eventually flogged that item as ‘vintage’ on eBay.

Now I need to repeat to myself,

“No more buying clothes on impulse”. Now where did I put that Boden catalogue.

(The painting is 'July Sunlight' by Douglas Stannus Grey)

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Why be bitchy about Boden?

I’m annoyed with myself for being irritated by the Boden-blogs article, but annoyed I am. Why be bitchy about Boden? I find their fabrics interesting, any garment I have bought has been well made and, making the most of the special offers, the prices are reasonable.

The catalogue is quirky, but buying a couple of items doesn’t mean you buy into a phoney lifestyle. I buy tee-shirts from Orvis but that doesn’t make me a keen fisherman. I used to read Country Living but didn’t believe it was anything more than a magazine published by the huge Hearst Corporation.

(Oops! Ignore that bit. I was taken in by the C.L. blog con after all.)

However, it’s become fashionable to knock Boden. Rosie Millard in the Independent had a go at them a few weeks back, now it’s Kate Muir’s turn, maybe a few others have joined in. I don’t often read lifestyle articles, my real life is too busy.

Once again I’m reminded of a small girl I saw in our village library, choosing books with pink covers, such is the power of style over substance. A bit like Ms Muir’s journalism perhaps.